Fire Tonight is sure to grab your attention from the game’s title screen. The neon-tinged blue and purple cityscape, mixed with a bouncy synth track playing in the background, sets the stage for a relaxing, 90’s infused adventure. Whilst the visuals and audio continue to charm throughout the actual game, this narrative puzzle experience is unfortunately a bit light in both story and gameplay – even for its short runtime.
The game opens with a telephone conversation between the hip Maya and goofy Devin – a young couple who met when Maya moved to the city. Their phone line is cut, however, when a fire engulfs the transformer outside of Maya’s flat. It just so happens that the whole city is suddenly on fire. Maya manages to tell Devin on a payphone that she’ll make her way across the city to reach him.
Each level sees you control either Maya or Devin, with each character offering different gameplay experiences. Maya’s levels offer the most variety, as you direct her around small open areas, solving environmental puzzles to progress forward. One level sees you sneaking past police, another roller-blading down a busy city road. Each mechanic only appears in a single level, never outstaying its welcome and avoids becoming stale. The only persistent obstacle is the ever-growing fire.
Early on Maya receives a Walkman player and some headphones, which grants her the strange ability to extinguish certain flames to open up a way forward. So strange, in fact, that it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out the function of this new item. Fire Tonight has a couple of little quirks that dampen the experience, but the most perplexing of them all is the quality of the writing.
The writing, be it the dialogue or the overall narrative, fluctuates from overly self-explanatory to nuanced and genuinely great. Most of the issues stem from the dialogue, with characters unnaturally explaining their backstories and frustratingly talking out loud about what they’re about to do. The latter gets in the way of gameplay at certain points too, by not giving the player space to think for themselves when solving a particular puzzle.
On the flip side, however, are some clever story beats told through the level design itself. When taking control of Devin, you only have his small apartment to explore in a point and click fashion. The aim here is to distract Devin from worrying about Maya by doing, well, anything. Flick through TV channels, play video games, listen to cassette mixtapes. You can only finish the level by exploring every available option – smartly conveying Devin’s desperation to literally use anything as a distraction whilst trapped in a small space. Even with the one-the-nose dialogue, the story told through the gameplay made Devin’s levels stand out the most.
Which is to say, after completing more levels and spending more time with the young lovers, I started to really warm to them. And then the credits rolled. I am not exaggerating when I say that I completed the game in under an hour. One of the levels took me less than a minute to complete. The extremely short playtime isn’t so much a terrible thing – it still tells a complete story and feels like a whole experience – but it’s a shame that just as Fire Tonight hits its stride, it’s all over. Just be prepared for a small, very linear experience.
You won’t find any collectibles or optional areas to explore, but what you will find is a distinct visual style and soundtrack. That neon-drenched colour palette is present throughout the entire game, and the character designs stand out. What is most impressive though is the visual novel style cutscenes, making the most of out limited but slick animations. The soundtrack won’t stick in your head but it does a great job of creating a relaxed atmosphere with its light and easy-going synth tracks.
Developer Reptoid Games have created an experience for those looking for a short, breezy adventure, but even then it still feels a little undercooked. Whilst the puzzles, visuals and certain narrative elements keep things engaging, the overall writing isn’t strong enough to make this indie title a truly memorable adventure. If you have a spare hour to fill, and are after a more casual gaming experience, then Fire Tonight might be for you.
Fire Tonight releases on PC and Nintendo Switch on August 12.